Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Giants Rubber, Rockies Glue
1) Tim Lincecum
2) Matt Cain
3) Barry Zito
4) Jonathan Sanchez
10) Madison Bumgarner
105) J.T. Snow inexplicably brought out of retirement again and throwing with his right hand.
278) Todd Wellemeyer
Now here's a similar list that reflects the level of confidence I have in each pitcher as of this very moment.
1) Matt Cain
2) Madison Bumgarner
3) Jonathan Sanchez
4) Barry Zito
5) Tim Lincecum
2,758) Todd Wellemeyer
I never thought, in a million years, that I'd be jotting down a list like that (except for the Wellemeyer part). Lincecum at the bottom? Back at the start of the season, my retort to that thought would be something like this. That's right, other than Cain (who is basically the team's unquestioned ace at this point), there's no other pitcher I'd want on the mound for the Giants in a big game besides Bumgarner. That's ahead of the up-and-down Sanchez, and the suddenly awful Zito and Timmy. It's certainly a far cry from Spring Training, when fans were wringing their hands over the Mad Bum's missing velocity.
This isn't to say that I don't think Lincecum will start pitching well again (I do) or that Zito won't recover from his recent foibles (more iffy on that one), but as of now Bumgarner is the team's second best-pitcher, last week's blowup against the Reds notwithstanding. It also helps that he can rake, as his key double in tonight's game can attest.
The mood tonight stands in sharp contrast to this time yesterday, when I was pretty much on the brink of this level of madness. Now the Giants have crept back to within four games of the suddenly reeling Padres, and all seems well. What bad loss? I have no such knowledge. When Andres Torres is hitting bolts over the right field bricks and Buster Posey is gunning down runners with laser beam throws (hideous managerial decision by Jim Tracy, amazing throw by Posey), it helps erode a fan's short-term memory.
Kudos, too, to the players for coming out and playing well despite the totally demoralizing loss from the previous night. Just for a fan like me who sits in his boxers and throws Fruit Loops at the TV, a loss like that is enough to start drafting the 2010 season's eulogy. I can't even imagine what it's like for the players who have to go back out there the next night and pretend nothing happened. That's why they're the professionals.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Wait...We Won That Game, Right?
Tonight's loss is the kind that promotes heavy drinking, and not just the kind that involves a tear-stained six pack to get you through the night. I'm talking about a week-long bender that ends in a ravaged motel room with scorched bed sheets and a thin layer of strange green liquid congealing over the floor. It feels as though there has been an inordinate number of games like this in 2010. Something about Giants baseball being torture?
I was all ready with a fawning post over Jonathan Sanchez's awesome game and my incredible love-hate relationship with him, but the delete key took over the second Cody Ross fumbled Carlos Gonzalez's long drive to right-center field. Just a disgusting loss, and now suddenly the Giants have to worry about not only the Padres, Phillies, Braves, and Cardinals in the pennant chase, but also the effing Rockies as well. Excuse me while I go bludgeon my TV with a lava lamp.
I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this crap, but what on Earth is Nate Schierholtz doing rotting on the bench in the ninth inning there? Now, I can't say for sure if Schierholtz wouldn't have mistaken a broken bat for a baseball on that play, but I'm certain he sure as hell would have looked a lot better out there than Ross, who took about three steps in and then watched Gonzalez's liner sail over his head. Ross has a (possibly dubious) reputation as a good fielder, but anyone who can read defensive statistics knows Nate is the real thing. Why even have him around if he's not going to come in for situations exactly like that in the ninth inning tonight?
Perhaps I'm overreacting, but man, what a way to kill what was turning into a satisfying night. Bah!
Monday, August 23, 2010
Noted .500 pitcher Matt Cain (I'm sorry, but I just can't get over that) pitched like a bull tonight, going eight strong and allowing only two runs. Of all the hitting stars, I give the game ball to Freddy Sanchez, who rapped out four hits. Sanchez has been a whole lot of miserable for a good two months now, so any sign that he can get his bat going is a welcome one. If he can hit like he did with Pittsburgh last season (.776 OPS) over the last month, that's a bug asset, and I don't think that's too much to ask. Lastly, the Buster Posey man-crush continues to grow after two more hits tonight and no sign of letup. This could start to get creepy very soon.
-Late in tonight's game, the Giants brought in Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz to act as defensive replacements, prompting Mike Krukow to start fawning over the incredible range this outfield now featured. Krukow stated that it was the best defensive outfield the Giants had trotted out since 1993, with Barry Bonds, Darren Lewis, and Willie McGee.
It's a good defense, for sure, but I beg to disagree, mostly because there's little evidence that Ross is all that good of a center fielder. So I guess it's two-thirds of a great defensive outfield, with one guy who most defensive metrics regard as pretty blah. Fair enough. It's better than the unsightly Pat Burrell/Jose Guillen corner combo that makes babies cry.
With this in mind, I feel the need to come out and say that I'm a big Schierholtz supporter, despite his limp bat. His glove is rated as a ridiculous 7.8 runs better than a normal right fielder, according to UZR, and Sean Smith's Total Zone Rating has him regarded highly as well. He and Andres Torres have probably been two of the best defensive players in the league this season, and have been a major part of the reason why the pitching has been so good thus far.
Which means he needs to play. I'm sorry but whatever gains Jose Guillen gives the team with the bat (and I question whether they're too substantial) are mostly taken away by his horrid fielding. The guy is like a frickin' statue out there (hopefully not one exposing itself to a whole city, though), and with the Giants and their staff full of fly ball pitchers, I'd argue that Schierholtz's glove has been a big part of the team's success so far this year. Is it any coincidence that their pitching has largely sucked since Guillen started getting regular at-bats?
Also, who knows, maybe Schierholtz will find his stroke with regular playing time again. Part of this insistence on playing him is based on the fact that I can't stand Guillen, but I think getting Nate's glove back in the outfield alongside Torres will be a big key to making the playoffs, crappy hitting or no.
-In the plugging universe, I should mention that Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times has written an article, inspired by the semi-comical cycle accomplished by our old friend Bengie Molina, listing the most unlikely cycles of all time. Molina, of course, makes the cut (I literally thought the Giants announcers were joking when they mentioned he had hit for the cycle that day), but some of the other names provide a fun look at middling hitters throughout baseball history. There is one other former Giant on the list, as well as the only member of the old Harvey's Wallbanger Brewers teams who couldn't actually bang the wall.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Why the Dark Before the Dawn?
On the way home, I had the misfortune of tuning in to the nonsensical bleating on KNBR. My brain, needless to say, is none the better for it. It was the usual knee-jerk, doom and gloom stuff, complete with inane trade talk and the calling out of players who don't deserve it. One guy suggested that the Giants should trade Barry Zito to the Cardinals for Albert Pujols this offseason. Great idea, except that I doubt that the Cardinals want to trade arguably the best player in the National League for the right to pay Zito $20 million for the next three years. Also, some guy called out Matt Cain for being "at the end of the day, just a .500 pitcher" and thought it advisable to trade him because of this fact. Just an epic facepalm.
Times seem tough for our heroes in the Orange in Black, but amidst the end-is-nigh woe from the KNBR whiners and their ilk, let me regale you with a story, from waaaaaay back in the year 2002. I personally attended this crappy game at Mays Field, a contest in which the Giants lost to the Vladimir Guerrero-led Expos and Livan Hernandez got his ample ass handed to him. At the end of the game, things looked grim. The Giants were 70-58, they were floundering around in third place, barely alive in both the division and the Wild Card race, and it looked like another disappointing season was in the works. Watching Livan pitch can kill your morale worse than being dumped, I tell you. This was in late August.
So what happened? The Giants immediately ripped off seven wins in a row and stormed to the Wild Card and eventually the pennant. They would overtake the Dodgers for good a mere two weeks later. Any thought of that dark day against Montreal has been wiped away in a sea of Kenny Lofton liners to the outfield.
Obviously the past week or so has been brutal, but let's put things in perspective here. The Giants just lost a tough series at home against the Padres. They didn't play well, and lost the series because of it. Fair enough. Then they had to embark on a brutal road swing against two of the better teams in the league, smack in the middle of the dog day of August. Few teams are going to come away from that unscathed.
Now they have nine straight at home, and their schedule from here on out includes a decent amount of subpar teams. Meanwhile, the Padres' schedule is about to get pretty rough, with most of their games against good teams, including a four-game set against St. Louis. Also, if the Milwaukee series is any indication, some of the good luck that San Diego's starting staff has been receiving all year may be running out.
The Giants have issues, moreso than can be solved by pointless acquisitions of Cody Ross. The defense is looking porous, the hitting is still shows up when it feels like, and the Tim Lincecum crisis has entered its third week. It's not time to panic, though. Even with the red hot Reds coming into town, I can definitely see a little home cooking touching off a nice winning streak. It's happened before this season, and there's no reason it can't happen now. With noted ".500 pitcher" Cain going tomorrow, I like the chances of getting this season back on the right foot. So please, fair KNBR callers, put a halt to the histrionics and stop rotting my brain.
--Regarding Cody Ross, I realize the Giants only have him because they put in a waiver claim to block San Diego from acquiring him (and because the perpetually cheap Marlins were all to happy to let the Giants take his salary off their hands). My question is: what evidence is there that Ross would have actually helped the Padres? He's basically Aaron Rowand with the bat, and his defense has not been particularly good the past two years, at least according to UZR and WAR. The Giants obviously wanted to prevent the Pads from upgrading more, and Ross is a potent bat against lefties, but now they just created a big roster fiasco, and I'm afraid our poor friend Nate Schierholtz, he of the great glove and cannon arm, might be forced out by this mess.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Dirty Sanchez Is No Carnac
Sanchez's bloviating notwithstanding, this was an ugly series. The Giants were probably lucky to even win the one game, and another bad Tim Lincecum start killed any hopes that the Giants could gain ground in the division this weekend. The Padres' offense is notably scarier after the deadline deals they made, but they still don't have anything resembling a great offense, and they beat the Giants to death with a barrage of dinks and doinks all weekend (though that will happen when you have Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen patrolling the outfield). To make matters worse, the main Giant-killing culprit this series was Miguel Tejada, who is one of the whiniest players I've ever seen and is one of my least favorites of all-time (Brandon Phillips' comments last week apply to him much more than to the Cardinals).
It was just ugly all around, with the Giants constantly playing from behind, something you just can't do against San Diego's pitching staff. The Padres won again tonight, so the Giants stumble into a rough six-game road trip against the Phillies and Cardinals four games back in the NL West and with an ace who is as clueless as you and me as to why he suddenly can't pitch. Joy. On the bright side, this hellish-looking week is followed by nine straight games at home.
-So the sky fell and Jose Guillen is a Giant. The same guy who got sent home for the 2004 playoffs by his own team, despite being their second-leading home run hitter, is now here to grace the Giants' clubhouse with his own brand of belligerence. On the bright side, the Giants got Guillen for a song. A Neil Diamond song, sung off key, so if he throws one of his patented tantrums, he'll be kicked off the team faster than you can say "Pierzynski".
The upside here is that he provides some power and a needed offensive charge but, really, when was the last time he was a good major league hitter? 2007 with Seattle? That was his only good year with the bat since 2005. The positive aspects of bringing this guy into the clubhouse seem incredibly farfetched. It didn't take long for him to draw the ire of Giant fans when, in his first Orange and Black start, he was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple. He accomplished this while leading off an inning, with the team down four runs, and managed to look like the world's slowest human being in doing so, an amazing feat on a team with Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff.
-In non-Giants related news, for anyone who finds the "#6org" snark as endlessly entertaining as I do, it looks like the issue has come full circle, as Dave Cameron has finally decided to confront his critics on the whole situation. It's a battle royale that provides some insight into why these bizarre, nerdy Internet battles (of which I happily admit to following) can often be so entertaining.
For those who aren't hip to the history of the "6org" madness...back in March, Cameron posted an article on Fangraphs in which he claimed that the Seattle Mariners were the sixth-best organization in baseball. This now looks completely insane, of course, since the Mariners are on pace to lose 100 games, but even back then it seemed overly optimistic. It didn't help that Cameron runs a Mariners blog and this just made him look like a total homer.
Well, Cameron is lauded in many circles for his insightful analysis, but ripped to pieces in many others for being a complete dick, and this was just the low-hanging fruit his detractors were looking for (besides this bit of strangeness). When it became clear that the Mariners were going to stink, a classic Internet meme was born. Ever since April or so, whenever the Mariners make a dumb move, which has been quite often, people mention it on Twitter and attach the "#6org" hashtag to it. Some might find it petty, but I choose to find it awesome to no end.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The Mike Fontenot Era Begins With a Bang
So the Giants hang with the Padres for another game, which is all they can really hope to do until Friday, since the Pads are busy kicking the crap out of a hopeless Pittsburgh team. On the heels of tonight's win, let's welcome the newest member of the Orange and Black. Into the torture baseball fray comes utility infielder Mike Fontenot, last seen killing the Giants with a late-inning RBI double...um, last night. Yep, all Fontenot had to do was run across the grass from dugout to dugout, as the Giants dealt a low-A infielder for him before tonight's game. With Edgar Renteria going on the disabled list, Fontenot provides a little added versatility and another left-handed bat off the bench.
Once upon a time, Fontenot looked like he could hit enough to be a regular. Yeah, a lot has changed since 2008. Fontenot learned the hard way what happens when your BABIP decides to come back to Earth, and he was miserable in way too many at-bats for the Cubs last season. This year he's been a little better, although his main asset to the Giants is that he isn't Emmanuel Burriss. As a minor trade to bolster the bench, I give it a courtesy clap. Hey. it's better than having a pea sprout in your lung.
The loss of Renteria means that the Giants no longer have to find him playing time in lieu of more at-bats from Juan Uribe. Uribe, as flawed as he may be, is still one of the Giants' most productive hitters and has no business losing plate appearances to the likes of Renteria and Freddy Sanchez. Unless Sanchez regains his hitting mojo, Fontenot will probably spell him against tough righties down the stretch, and with Renteria out the Giants don't have any excuses to sit Uribe and his potent bat.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Lincecum's struggles tonight were bothersome, especially since he was all over the map in the first inning, with seemingly little clue where the ball was going. Even more bothersome is the fact that Lincecum has now surpassed his career high in home runs allowed, with two months still to go. Decreased velocity, declining strikeout rate, increased home run rate, and increased walk rate? It's not time to panic, but these are unsettling trends.
So I'm going to whistle my way past this game and assume the Giants can wring out three wins from this series. I suggest you do the same.
-While you're dealing with your depression from tonight's loss, here's something to terrify you. Why would anyone in their right mind think acquiring Jose Guillen would be a good idea? How many different ways are there to say no to this rumor? I can think of a few that involve the F word. Let's see...he's a notorious clubhouse cancer and he sucks. Oh, and Troy Percival famously called him an asshole in the book Fantasyland. Yeah, that's not exactly a guy who you want on your team down the stretch drive.
-From the Files of: You're a Big, Gigantic Pussy comes this hilarious highlight from last night's Astro game. At one point in the game, an Astros player hit a foul ball that headed right toward some guy sitting with his girlfriend in the stands. As the ball rocketed towards his girl, the poor loser lunged out of the way like a frightened chicken, and the ball nailed his girlfriend in the arm. The girl looked understandably pissed, while the guy claimed to have lost the ball in the lights. Yeah, dude, I used to use that excuse in Little League. Epic chivalry fail.
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
No such drama tonight. The Giants rapped out 19 hits, and by the time Andres Torres blasted his 11th home run to give the Giants a 10-0 lead, it just seemed cruel. It's not often these days you get to take sadistic pleasure in a vicious Giants beatdown of another team, especially not with this recent, low-offense incarnation, so games like tonight's are just fun. Enjoy it while it lasts, because another day brings another game in Coors Field and the potential for whole new parade of nightmares.
Hero of the day: They're everywhere, but I'm going to go with Freddy Sanchez for blasting his second home run of the season. Sanchez's work at the plate since the All-Star Break has been a clinic on how to not hit at the major league level, so if a little high altitude hitting can get his bat going, then we won't have to wonder why our number two hitter is OBPing .320.
Runner-up is Jonathan Sanchez for his brilliant work on the mound, at one point striking out seven straight Rockies to tie the San Francisco record. And to think some fans wanted to trade this guy for Corey Hart. For shame.
Monday, August 02, 2010
Wall Of Flake
This weekend the Giants elected two more players to the Giants' Wall of Fame, which sits right outside Mays Field. Rich Aurilia and Shawn Estes, two key players from the Giants' 1997-2002 glory years, were enshrined on Saturday, seemingly cementing their statuses as Giants immortals. In order to make the Wall, a player has to either play at least nine seasons with the team, or play five seasons and have one All-Star berth. Both players made one All-Star appearance, with Estes making the team in 1997 (and serving up a bomb to Sandy Alomar Jr., no less), and Aurilia in 2001.
Aurilia's inclusion on the wall is a no-brainer. He is arguably the best shortstop in San Francisco Giants history and his 2001 season was one of the greatest for any shortstop in NL history. Plus, anybody sporting such a rocking goatee should be placed on any Wall of Fame just by default.
Estes, on the other hand, gives one pause, at least at upon initial reaction. After his awesome breakout 1997 year, in which he won 19 games with an ERA+ of 130, his lack of control and general flakiness got the better of him, and he fell off a cliff in the next two seasons. In 2000, he had an apparent resurgence, but his 15 wins were largely the by-product of pitching in front of an historically great offense and having an insane 40 double plays turned behind him. By 2001, the Giants had tired of his high walk totals and eventually turned him into The Man With the Orange Wristbands. Oh, and he once went on a joy ride with a stolen police bike. Genius, he may not be.
I can't decide. Do Giants fans generally remember Estes fondly, or with some animosity? His 1997 performance was a thing of beauty (I'll never forget listening to this game in my car as I left for a long Fourth of July vacation), but my lasting image of him will probably be him hobbling off of second base with the ball in play and being tagged out in Game 2 of the 2000 playoffs against the Mets. That kind of boneheadedness was sadly typical of Estes's career, and it's what drove us Giants fans up the wall. As good as his stuff was, he was just bound to implode in a sea of walks at any moment, and he was pretty much the last guy you wanted pitching in a big game. By the time he was traded away, I don't remember anyone being too sad to see him go.
So is he Wall of Fame-caliber? Well, I think the point of the Wall is more to pay tribute to Good Giants rather than simply legends like Willie Mays or Barry Bonds. If we're honoring players who made a legitimate impact on the franchise for an extended period of time, then Estes definitely qualifies. No one can talk about the magical 1997 team without mentioning the year Estes had, and there's no way in hell the Giants win the NL West without him. Plus, how can Estes not be on there when there's room for Randy Moffitt? Or Atlee Hammaker? Or Johnny Lemaster?
The day Livan Hernandez is enshrined, though, I'm outta here.
--As a postscript to the Estes talk, I would like to take all the credit for his All-Star 1997 season. During the previous offseason, Estes came to Sacramento for an autograph signing. Geeked up by his strong finish to the '96 season, I was there with my glossy 8' x 10'' photo and my baseball and a glimmer in my 14-year-old eye.
After Estes signed both of these items, and as my dad carted me away, I yelled "good luck next season" at him. He looked at me like I was insane and possibly intent on causing harm, but wouldn't you know it, he went on to have his best year in the majors. So yes, I consider myself Estes' good luck charm. The baseball he signed still sits on my shelf, but the photo sadly died a horrible death by being chewed up by cats.
Sunday, August 01, 2010
Any sweep is a thing of beauty, but the way the Giants applied the broom to the Dodgers this weekend was equivalent to picking up what's left on the newspaper and rubbing their noses in it. With the series on the verge of turning in LA's favor, Pat Burrell launched a go-ahead home run off of the obese and suddenly ineffective Jonathan Broxton, single-handedly pile-driving the knife into the Dodgers' deathly-black hearts. After that, Matt Cain's symbolic win (he'd never beaten the Dodgers before) was merely a formality.
Series kudos go to, of course, all three Giants starters, for pitching gems in each game. To Burrell, for that home run that provided yet another moment this year that had me leaping out of my chair. Pat the Bat is clearly not the same guy he was with the Phils, and his defense is horrid, but this is what he'll give you. He's a guy who can turn a game with one swing of the bat late in the game, something the Giants have pined for in recent years. Points also to Edgar Renteria for his big hit tonight, and to Aubrey Huff, for being awesome in general and continuing to make me look like an idiot and an asshole for ripping his signing earlier.
--The Giants pulled off two trades, of the minor sort. In order to bolster the bullpen a little (because any Denny Bautista appearance makes us all want to take up smoking, stat), the team acquired Ramon Ramirez from Boston and Javier Lopez from Pittsburgh.
Ramirez is a relative obscurity, having toiled in Kansas City for most of his successful career, but he has been a solid pitcher over the past two years. His down year in 2010 is largely driven by an increased home run rate, something that should be helped by his new home ballpark. He provides some depth and is essentially a better version of Guillermo Mota. The Giants traded Daniel Turpen, a 23-year-old pitcher with mediocre peripherals in AA. Prospect mavens don't seem excited about him at all, so I doubt he'll be missed.
The Lopez trade is a little more goofy. I generally consider LOOGYs to be a waste of a roster spot, since they're only good enough to face one batter per game, and have to be hidden from righties at all costs. So I'm doubly aghast when the Giants trade for one, when generally these guys can be found on the scrap heap (remember Scott Eyre or, hell, Rich Rodriguez?). Lopez has put too many runners on base for a reliever, and he's actually been better against right-handers this year (yeah yeah, I know it's a fluke). His sidewinding delivery is cool and all, but he almost pitched himself out of baseball after a miserable 2009 and could only hook on with the listless Pirates this season. Pointless, I say.
As for the players the Giants gave up, John Bowker is the one who may make this look bad. He's 26 and hasn't figured it out at the major league level, but on a rebuilding team I could see him throwing together a couple of solid power years and inevitably killing the Giants with a big home run down the road. I'll certainly be rooting for him.
Martinez, even though he's a minor hero in Giant fan circles for returning so swiftly after taking a liner to the eye last year, is basically AAA fodder. Even though Bowker and Martinez are nothing to write home about, I still can't help but wonder why the Giants felt the need to throw two players in to get a one-dimensional, highly interchangeable left-handed pitcher. Oh well. Did I mention the Giants swept the Dodgers?